Google Play Music ups its radio game on Android

Google Music is now Google Play Music, bringing more customizable playlists, radio queueing, and a complete redesign of its flagship music player.

Hot off the presses of Google IO 2013, Google Music is back with a new name, look, and service. Formerly known as Google Music, Google has now opted to brand their player as part of the Google Play Service. And though the name doesn't exactly flow very well, Google Play Music is now much more than just the cloud-powered player that comes with Android.

In an effort to compete with the likes of iTunes, Spotify, and Pandora, Google has come out full force with new label partnerships that include Universal and Sony. The result is a completely overhauled app filled with swipeable playlists, a brand new streaming radio service, music recommendations, and more.

First thing you'll notice is the trademark card style: Google has brought a fresh coat of paint to make the music experience much more consistent with the card designs found in Google Now and the Play store. Swiping from left to right opens a menu with a few options: Listen Now, My Library, Playlists, Radio, and Explore.

My Library has been redesigned to be more consistent with the card-like designs of Google Now and the Google Play Store. Swiping from left to right and bottom to top will respectively open your main menu or bring up the current track.

Aside from the compete redesign, users will be most curious about the streaming experience. Does it beat Pandora or Spotify? Pandora, probably yes. As for Spotify, it really boils down to a matter of preference.

One of Google's more innovative features for its radio service is the ability to see all the tracks queued for play. Users can bring up a list of all the intelligently generated tracks and customize their radio as they see fit, down to the song. Don't like what's coming up? Simply swipe it away. You can also reorder tracks as you see fit. It's a feature that's yet to be fully embraced on rival radio services.

The signature 3-dot menus are scattered all over the app, allowing users to store music onto their phones for offline use or queue up songs in a playlist.

The original cloud-based storage still works, but you're forced to continue using the less-than-stellar Google Music desktop application. Another potential turnoff is the absence of a free tier; you'll be paying for this service. If you're already accustomed to the iTunes-like management and slick mobile take of Spotify, then by all means stick with it. But if you're heavily invested in the Google ecosystem and design perks of its ICS flavoring and so on, then it's worth a shot... especially considering the free 30-day trial. In terms of general music library size, it's harder to gauge, but having the big three labels onboard should support most music lovers' tastes.

All in all, it's a solid effort on Google's part and certainly an improvement over last year's version. Is it the overwhelming Spotify killer? No. But it's different and it's got more bells and whistles than what initially meets the eye.

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